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Diverse thinking


How many ethnic minorities are represented within your organisation? Do you know that? If you do, do you know what the breakdown is in terms of representation and at what levels of the organisation? How about the breakdown in terms of sexual orientation? Or faith-based segmentation? 

Let’s ask a different question: does all this matter? Or is it all just political correctness gone mad as the ‘Little Englanders’ of Daily Mail-land would no doubt claim?  The answer to that until now has depended on organisational policy and culture, but with the Equalities Act now in place questions of diversity should be heading up the HR agenda. 
In fact it seems entirely likely that the full implications of the Equalities Act have yet to sink in at corporate level across UK Plc.  “The Equalities Act is a very British thing, that sort of thing when you see signs saying that if you litter you could be fined. Not that you will be fined, but that there is a possibility,” comments diversity consultant Zena Martin. 
Martin hails from the US and a varied career that has encompassed senior marketing and PR roles across a variety of sectors. During her time working for US firms, she came across clients such as Ford and Kraft who would spend millions on their outreach to diverse audiences. 
“When I moved to the UK what struck me was that there didn’t seem to be companies like that,” she observes. “One PR firm that I had worked for in the US had had a diversity division since 1987 that was a seven figure business. But the UK business didn’t.  That was common. The big agencies in the US that have diversity arms aren’t doing that over here.”
Going it alone
So Martin set up as a freelance diversity consultant.  Given the people-centric nature of all this, sure  HR should be taking the lead?  “The people who hire me vary,” she says. “There are some organisations who already get it, but there are companies who come to me because they realise that they need to do something.  It can be HR, it can be the head of Corporate Social Responsibility in larger organisations, occasionally it is the Head of Diversity, but there aren’t very many of them around.
“Traditionally the impression of HR people were ‘the nice ladies’,” smiles Martin. “Across the board, so much of British business is still pretty much male, middle class, straight. In the HR department are the nice middle class women who live in Hampshire. That has an effect. These are not people who are walking down through Soho and seeing everything under the sun.”
Inevitably HRD demographic shifts will start to play their part.  “We are probably in a phase with younger people in HR who know friends who perhaps come from wider walks of like so there is that  transition phase happening,” suggests Martin. “I’d like to see it move a bit faster. But you know, there are some of the so called the HR ‘nice ladies’ who understand it and are trying very hard. Age isn’t necessarily a barrier here.“
What part will the Equalities Act have in changing attitudes? “Well I don’t go to companies saying ‘you should be doing something’ – that’s like beating your head off a brick wall,” says Martin. “What will happen I’m sure is many companies will say ‘oh shit!’ when it’s the eleventh hour and 50 minutes. It will take a court case or two. For most of them it will take a couple of high profile court cases. Recommendations are just recommendations, it’s not like the Nordics where it’s a case of ‘this is what you will do’.“

Putting your house in order
So if an organisation does decide it’s time to put its house in order, what can they expect from an external diversity consultant? Martin cites one example that illustrates how her role as advisor works. “At BskyB, basically I did a complete audit of all their marketing material and looked at every touch point Sky had, including the news and who their presenters were,” she explains. “I ran workshops with their executive teams across marketing, news and sport and talked to them about what they felt about diversity. Were they finding it frustrating to find talent, for example?”
In that instance it took one visual trick to ram home the point.  “I took all the head shots of all the presenters and laid them out and then laid out the five pictures of their ethnic reporters. There was an audible gasp as they didn’t realise that there was such a disparity,” recalls Martin. “When I was watching Sky the other day, there were four people doing the review of the newspapers slot.  Of the four people, the presenter and two of the reviewers were from ethnic groups. I thought that was huge.”
There is of course the people element to be considered – how will employees react to being sent on a ‘course around diversity? “What tends to happen is that once a company says everyone is going to go through diversity training you get people thinking that they’re going to be lectured about not having any gay friends or not making jokes that their mates would have found funny,” admits Martin. 
“There is some good diversity training out there, but there’s also a lot of bad training as well. It shouldn’t be lecturing and making people feel guilty. When you walk into the room and there’s hostile body language and people thinking ‘why am I here, I don’t want to be here’.  It’s not even a nice jolly where you are getting out of the office. At Sky, they were pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t there to lecture them, I was there to help them become the company they wanted to be."
Political correctness gone mad?
But there has be the danger of adverse reactions – the ‘political correctness gone mad’ brigade mentioned above who will openly bemoan so-called positive discrimination and affirmative action. For her part, Martin has strong views on both terms.  
“I don’t have any problems with the concept of affirmative action, but I do have with positive discrimination,” she argues. “Affirmative action means levelling the playing field. I don’t believe in hiring anyone who isn’t qualified just to tick a box – you’re only setting that person up to fail. On the other hand, if someone really is qualified but can’t even get in the door, that’s different. Affirmative action is about allowing that person to get in the door.” 
So while we wait for those Equalities Act law suits to come around and awareness levels to raise, what actions can HRDs take now to starting putting their own houses in order? “Companies can’t afford not to do this,” asserts Martin. “You don’t have to do everything at once. You can pick from the a la carte menu and decide what you would like to do first and look at what do you have to do now. Then as you grow, you add to that. Just start small.  Sometimes it’s all about the baby steps. 
“Read articles and look at the best practice of companies that have been profiled on sites like HRZone. Look at US examples for a lead.  If you recognise that you need to do something, sometimes it’s just about trusting your guts. If you realise that something is wrong with the picture, then make some effort to change it.”
For further information on diversity training, contact [email protected]

One Response

  1. Monitoring to stop Discrimination

    Thanks Zena, your article raised some really important points – and i've put together some ideas to develop one or two. Would love to get feedback from you and others…

    Monitoring assists in putting the Diversity & Inclusion policy into Practice.  It should only be used when there is a need to have clarity about the reasons for monitoring for example recruitment, progression, talent management, positive action programmes and the under representation of individuals from minority groups.  

    Equalities monitoring helps the organisation to identify when customs, practices and traditions have the potential to discriminate against certain individuals or groups based on one of their 9+ protected characteristics which include

    • Age
    • Class
    • Disability
    • Gender Reassignment
    • Marriage / Civil Partnership
    • Pregnancy and maternity
    • Race
    • Religion or Belief
    • Socio-Economics
    • Sex
    • Sexual Orientation – Bisexual   Gay   Heterosexual   Lesbian
    • Status
    • Other

    Employment monitoring enables organisations to look at the make-up of their employees and compare this with the proportionality of the diverse groups within their company.  Equalities monitoring is a way of looking at how human resources practices and procedures affect people with different needs, so that we can address any inequalities and make sure everyone understands the legal, ethical and business case for diversity and inclusion.

    Equalities monitoring plays an important role by giving organisations the information they need to:

    • Highlight possible inequalities
    • Investigate their underlying causes; and
    • Remove any unfairness or disadvantage

    Equalities monitoring enables organisations to identify and address issues of inequality and discrimination and is therefore a critical way of supporting and ensuring the implementation of Diversity and Inclusion.

    We would be happy to send through our Monitoring guidelines to HR Zone readers, just email us at info at muikaleadership dot com


    Karen Murphy

    Muika Leadership – Click to read more on Equality Training


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